Disney Goes Hawaiian, Part 8:
The News from Disney’s Aulani
February 26, 2010

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
Here’s how the Disney site at Ko Olina looked on February 21, 2010.

Aloha! As much of North America is buried under snow, I have brand new construction photos (February 21, 2010) of the Disney resort being built on the sunny western shore of O‘ahu. There’s been tremendous progress since my last update three months ago, and even more since my own visit there seven months ago. The photo at the top of this article and the photo below are the same site just seven months apart.
Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, February 26, 2010    
Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
Here’s the site just seven months earlier—July 20, 2009.

It was Disney’s “no name” resort.

The Walt Disney Company announced plans for a resort in Hawai‘i on October 3, 2007, but the announcement didn’t include a name. Would it be called Disney’s Grand Hawaiian Resort & Spa? How about Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Resort?

Finally! As of January 19, 2010, the resort has a name. It’s a mouthful—Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i.

Say it—“Aulani”—with the “au” pronounced like the “au” in Maui, not like the “au” in Audubon.

In the press release, Imagineer Joe Rohde explains that Aulani means “the place that speaks for the great ones” or “the place that speaks with deep messages,” when translated from the Hawaiian language to English.

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
The lobby structure, which looks like a Polynesian canoe house, is starting to take shape.

The Hawaiian name is another indication that Disney is seriously committed to a resort that respects and accurately portrays the host culture. The press release confirms this:

“We want this resort destination to reflect the vibrant culture that surrounds it. The name ‘Aulani’ expresses a connection to tradition and deep story-telling—and its roots are here in this land,” said Joe Rohde, Senior Vice President, Creative for Walt Disney Imagineering. “We’re so grateful to the local Hawaiians who led us to the discovery of this name, and our goal is to live up to its meaning.”

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
The open-air lobby immerses guests in Hawaiian art and design. (Disney rendering, 2010)

If you’ve ever wondered what other Hawaiian words and phrases mean, try the online Hawaiian Dictionary (Pukui/Elbert dictionary).

Hawaiian place names are widely used in Hawai‘i, including names that end in “lani.” The JW Marriott resort next door is the Ihilani (defined as “heavenly splendor; sacredness of a chief; reverence due a chief”). The street that separates them is Olani (defined as “to toast over a fire, broil, warm in sunlight”).

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
The location of this pile of construction materials will one day be a Hawaiian taro patch.

On O‘ahu, most street names come from the Hawaiian language or the names of Hawaiians. Since 1954, it’s been the law for all new street names. In older parts of Honolulu, you’ll find names like King Street and University Avenue. Even in fast-growing Kapolei, where the Ko Olina Resort is located, you can find roads such as Farrington Highway, Fort Barrette Road, and Roosevelt Avenue that pre-date the law. But visitors to the Aulani will need to get used to street names such as Aliinui Drive, Kuhela Street, and Kamoana Place.

Garmin nüvi GPS navigation devices mangle Hawaiian street names. If you know the actual pronunciation, it can be quite funny.

Sometimes it’s better not to know what a name means. Ki‘ona‘ole Road (in Kane‘ohe) means “without dung heaps.” Mo‘omuku Place (in Kuli‘ou‘ou) means “mutilated lizard.” Ma‘ipalaoa Road (in Wai‘anae) means “whale genitals.” But most street names are appropriate and pleasant, even if you know the meaning. If you want to learn more, look for the book Hawaiian Street Names: The Complete Guide to O‘ahu Street Names by Rich Budnick (author) and Duke Kalani Wise (translator).

Sorry. I’m getting off the subject. Let’s get back to the Aulani Resort.

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
The porte-cochère in front of the lobby structure is surrounded by a tropical paradise. (Disney rendering, 2008)

As I noted in my first article in this series, What to Expect from Disney at Ko Olina, Disney is embracing a theme based on Hawaiian traditions in a big way, while most other lodging companies avoid it. Sure, other resorts in Hawai‘i have “tasteful” Hawaiian art and plenty of tropical plants, but their architecture tends to be simple and modern—often bland and boring. And when there is an attempt at Hawaiian architecture, it tends to be based on Hawai‘i’s Plantation period.

Nobody will mistake Disney’s tropical high-rises for actual grass huts. But based on models and renderings, Disney’s resort should immerse guests in a Hawaiian environment unmatched by any other resort on the Islands. Disney has hired Hawaiian artists and experts on Hawaiian culture. The results should delight guests and satisfy critics who have been concerned about Disney’s presence in Hawai‘i.

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
A close-up view of the porte-cochère shows what arriving guests might experience. (Disney rendering, 2010)

Another bit of news in the January press release was this line: “Plans call for the first phase of the resort to open in fall 2011.” Although 2011 has been the target date ever since Disney announced the resort in 2007, it’s now been narrowed down to a season—fall.

Also, we now know that the opening will be in phases, but not exactly what that means. Will Disney open some floors, while leaving other floors unfinished until a later date? Will the first phase include the Disney Vacation Club wing and the resort hotel wing, or will only one of these open at first? How long will it take until all phases are complete?

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
The JW Marriott Ihilani (far left) is a short walk from the Aulani site.

Across the street from the Aulani and the J.W Marriott Ihilani, two new neighborhood shopping centers are not yet in operation. The buildings of Ko Olina Center and Ko Olina Station are done, but no stores or restaurants have opened their doors. Plans call for a Wyland Grille, “an innovative restaurant and bar conveying Wyland’s love of the ocean.” Yes, that’s Wyland as in the Wyland Gallery at Disney’s BoardWalk Resort (and a bunch of other places). Nick’s Fishmarket was supposed to open a restaurant too, but that’s no longer the case. In fact, Nick’s Fishmarket closed its Waikiki and Chicago Loop locations.

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
As the sun begins to set, the Aulani site is bathed in warm light.

In Kapolei, a few miles from the Aulani, a planned 1.5 million-square-foot, mixed-use shopping center is inching closer to reality. This month, the developer, Hawai‘i DeBartolo LLC, announced a general contractor for the first phase of Ka Makana Alii. However, phase one is only a neighborhood convenience center, and the beginning of construction is still up to 18 months away.

There will be plenty for guests to do when the Aulani opens, but shopping at the third largest shopping mall in the state of Hawai‘i won’t be an option, at least at first.

That’s the news from Disney’s Aulani and environs.

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i
This will be the view from the Aulani’s beachfront restaurant.

Now, if you’re interested, please take a look at the seven earlier articles in this series:

Disney Goes Hawaiian, 9
Disney Goes Hawaiian, 7

© 2010 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated May 7, 2010.

Construction photos of Aulani Resort: February 21, 2010, by Mike Keegan, courtesy of Rick Doherty, Laurie Pratt-Doherty, Laura Keegan, and Mackay Keegan.
Artist concept renderings: Copyright Disney.
Construction photo before major vertical construction: July 20, 2009, by Werner Weiss.